Is ‘This Too Shall Pass’ Really a Bible Verse in Scripture?

Bethany Verrett

this too shall pass bible Monday, June 8, 2020

So many words of wisdom turns of phrases, and colloquial sayings become a key element of culture. Some come from Shakespeare, some from Benjamin Franklin, others from the Bible. Many are so ubiquitous their origins are vague, hard to identify, or entirely unknown. “This too shall pass” is such a phrase.

In the age of social media, it is easy to misattribute a saying to the wrong source. Often, sayings that evoke wisdom from the Psalms or the Sermon on the Mount become Biblical, not because they are, but because they seem Biblical to those who do not read the Bible or do not read it frequently.  Let's take a look at some common misconceptions about the meaning and origin behind the phrase "this too shall pass".

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this too shall pass bible

Where Did the Phrase ‘This Too Shall Pass’ Originate?

This saying gained popularity in the west in the 19th century after being used by Edward Fitzgerald in his 1852 poem “Solomon’s Seal.” It was then paraphrased by Abraham Lincoln in a speech before his presidency. Once it entered the zeitgeist, over time, people began saying “this too shall pass” and attributing it to many varying sources of wisdom, but most especially the Bible.

But the phrase is far older than the 19th century, and the older an expression is, the more difficult it is to attribute it to the correct source. This phrase is most commonly attributed to the Middle East, generally Persia, Turkey, or Israel. The idea is also a theme in Sufi (Islamic mysticism) writings, mostly on wealth and temporary state of power and status. 

Persian poet Suft Farid al-Din wrote a story about a wise king in the thirteenth-century who asked a group of wise men what will make him happy, and “this too shall pass” is the answer they devise. 

There is another school of thought that roots the saying in Jewish literature where King Solomon requests a wise man seek a magic ring. The point of the story is to humble the counselor, as no magic ring existed, and the one found instead has “this too shall pass.” In another version of the story, a sultan asks Solomon for a piece of wisdom that would hold true during times of plenty and times of little, and the wise king responded, “this too shall pass.” There is no Biblical basis in Jewish or Christian Scripture for this origin story – instead it comes from folklore. 

It is not unusual for common sense pieces of wisdom to arise in different cultures. In the tenth century, an Anglo-Saxon poem invokes this piece of wisdom similar in nature to “this too shall pass.” Translated from the medieval language, the saying from Deor’s Lament approximates to, “that passed away, this also may.” In context, the saying is a refrain that comes after a series of verses that describe a tragic situation. The saying is an acceptance of the temporal nature of man. The saying accepts that tragedy comes and goes in human existence. 

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this too shall pass bible

Is the Phrase ‘This Too Shall Pass’ a Biblical Concept?

While the mantra is not from the Bible, nor should it be used in place of scriptural truth, it is not an entirely untrue statement. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the writer - King Solomon, son of David - contemplates the state of man, and how the things of this world are temporal. The most famous of these meditations is found in the third chapter:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

In these verses, Solomon meditates on how the phases of life do not last. God ordains seasons for the climate, and seasons during a person’s life. In fact, the Book of Revelation states that after the judgment and the creation of the new heaven and the new earth that, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). After this passing away, the old shall truly have gone away, and eternity in heaven will be spent joyfully glorifying the Lord.

While the idea of a current state passing away is not unbiblical in the strictest sense, since it does not state anything overtly contradictory to God’s Word, but as previously stated, the context and full meaning of the saying “this too shall pass” is not the same. 

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this too shall pass bible

What Does the Bible Say about Suffering and Endurance?

While the Bible does speak about how earthly things and states of being are temporary, the reason we are to endure is different than in the ancient sources for “this too shall pass.” 

In the Bible, believers are called to endure for a purpose. Endurance is necessary to overcome the trials of this life. It is necessary to spread the Gospel. It is important because if the believer endures to the end, there is glory with the Savior in eternity. “This too shall pass” calls to endure because there will be a temporary reprieve from a current state of suffering before the next one comes. Often, the Bible discusses suffering and endurance together. To develop and cultivate one, a person must experience the other, but it is all for a purpose. 

Verses about suffering and endurance do acknowledge that hard moments pass, but their context is different.

Some Bible verses about suffering include:

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

These words come directly from the Lord Jesus. He acknowledges that believers must share in trials and hard times. They will endure, because Jesus has already won the victory over death - a victory in which they will share. The tribulation shall pass away, and it is assured.

Hebrews 13:6 “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges the difficulties of life. In fact, there is an expectation not only of financial woes, marital discord, and loss, but of persecution and perhaps even martyrdom. Yet there is neither fear nor worry. These trials are small in the face of a mighty God, and the promise of eternal life.

Romans 2:2-5 “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

These verses fly in the face of worldly expectations. Not only does it acknowledge the suffering and trials of the world, but that believers can rejoice in their trials because it produces endurance, good character, and increases hope. Unlike the phrase “this too shall pass,” Paul’s words of wisdom do not merely accept suffering as an inevitable part of the life-cycle, but a source of personal improvement that brings the individual closer to God.

Philippians 3:8,12 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ ... Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Many theologians believe Paul wrote this from prison towards the end of his life. He had lost much and suffered much. But for Paul, everything he lost was worthless in the face of the magnitude of who Jesus is, and what He has done for us. He chose to press forward in his faith, striving to be more Christ-like, because He was now a part of the family of God. This attitude toward suffering, embracing it as something in which the believer can glorify the Lord, is an important part of spiritual growth. It is not just enduring the pain, but using it for God’s glory.

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this too shall pass bible

Why Do We Think This Is a Bible Verse?

It is easy to understand why this saying is found in the Bible. It reflects themes and ideas that are present. In fact it is commonly attributed to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “ For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

It does speak of the passing of old things for a new eternity. However, once this new eternity starts, it will not pass. In the age of social media, it is easy to come across a misattributed quotation, and not question the source. Bombarded with information, it becomes harder to find confirmation of sources, especially for common myths and mistakes. 

The easiest way to combat these concerns when it comes to whether or not something is from the Bible is to get more familiar with the Word. Making daily Bible study a priority, memorizing Scripture, and always double-checking against Scripture itself. With online Bible tools and apps, it is easier than ever to search for a verse in multiple translations to see if it is actually in the text. 

The stronger grasp a believer has on the Word, the stronger that person’s walk with the Lord will be, and the better a defense and explanation of the faith that person can give.

Sources

Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

Leiman, Shnayer Z. (Spring 2008). "Judith Ish-Kishor: This Too Shall Pass". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 41 (1): 71–77.

Trahem, Joseph B. “Deor.” Edited by Paul E Szarmach and Carl T Berkhout. Old English Newsletter 29, no. 3 (1996). http://www.oenewsletter.org/OEN/archive/OEN29_2.pdf.

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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.

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